Off-Roading Through the Dunes of Sossusvlei: A Namibia Highlight

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Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa

Morning in the Namib desert. We made a speedy exit from the Gondwana Desert Camp in order to be at our next destination early. Today was a very exciting day. We were heading to the Sesriem campsite which is located within Sossusvlei National Park. If you haven’t heard of Sossusvlei before, Sossusvlei is home to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world. This National Park is made up of majestic red dunes as well as flat white ‘vleis’. Vleis are areas where water stands in the rainy season but are otherwise bone dry and crisp white in colour.

The best time to enter Sossuvlei national park is either first thing in the morning (at dawn) or in the evening. Did I enter at either of these? Let’s see, I entered Etosha National Park at midday, the supposed worst possible time to visit, I wasn’t going to stop with my bad timings now.

After indulging in some lunch at Sesriem, we set off into the desert at midday – the hottest time of the day. However, with our air-con blasting in our faces, we were quite oblivious to the heat.

Sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Our first glimpse of the towering red dunes of Sossusvlei

Facts about Sossuvlei!

Sossusvlei is located in the Namib desert which is the oldest desert in the world.

The Namib desert is also home to the highest sand dunes on the planet.

Sossuvlei is actually named after the Sossusvlei pan which is the largest ‘vlei’ in Sossusvlei.

The most famous ‘vlei’ in Sossusvlei is Deadvlei. Deadvlei literally translates to ‘dead marsh’. It’s named Deadvlei after the numerous dead camel-thorn trees which are trapped in the pan.

The camel-thorn trees died after their water supply was cut off as a result of dunes being formed all around them. Without water, they could not survive. The trees have remained intact as the sand dunes block any winds from weathering them.

To find out more information about Sossusvlei, check out this awesome article I found on everything you need to know about Sossusvlei.

Sand dunes and oryx in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
A lone oryx travelling through the desert

We expected it be at most a 30 minute drive from Sesriem to Sossusvlei. However, it actually took us just over an hour to reach the 2×4 parking at the edge of Sossusvlei. The main part of Sossusvlei is only accessibly by either 4×4 or a shuttle. It is forbidden to take a 2×4 into the heart of Sossusvlei, and with good reason. This is where the tarred road ends. The rest of the way is off-roading through relatively thick sand. A regular car simply wouldn’t be able to handle it. So if you have a 2×4, you have to leave it in the car park and take a shuttle the rest of the way.

I was grateful to have chosen a 4×4. I couldn’t wait to go off-roading through the desert! But before we went any further, I had to get out the car and delate our tyres from 2.2 psi to 1.6 psi. 1.6 psi is actually more on the fuller end for the tyres but I thought I could always deflate them later on if there was an issue. You can take your tyres down to as low as 1.1 psi.

Thus our drive through the desert began! We soon learnt that we had to drive following the fresh tracks of other cars. At one point my partner tried to drive over much thicker sand which was a route that looked like it hadn’t been travelled for a while. We soon learnt why no one had driven there for a while. The car became stuck in the sand. There was a lot or roaring and revving but the wheels just wouldn’t budge. My partner played around with the different settings, putting the car into a low-range gear but in the end it was a shove from me to the back of the car that freed it from its sandy prison. I must be kinda strong, right?

Sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Driving by a group of oryx

Entering the park not long after midday actually turned out to be a very good idea. After spending another hour driving to the heart of Sossusvlei, we’d already burnt through 2 hours and it was 3pm. Sunset and the park closing time was at 6pm. Driving to Sossusvlei could admittedly be quicker but I was having too much fun leaping out of the car taking photos. A shuttle drove past me as I ran behind our car, filming it from behind. The shuttle driver cast me a sidelong glance, clearly wondering if I was lost or just having fun. I smiled at him and waved before he sped up and continued his drive.

My aim for the day was to find Deadvlei as this place is somewhere that has always fascinated me. The photographs I have seen online are so eerie and beautiful at the same time. I could already imagine what photo I wanted to get. Well, turns out it’s not as easy to find as I thought. The 4×4 parking is not a clear car park. There were 2 vehicles beside a very low rope fence so I assumed this was the parking. There was also a small sign that said ‘Deadvlei 14km’ but I had no idea where it wanted me to go. I asked several people for directions. The first group I asked said I had to trek into the desert over 2 rises. That made sense so I began my journey. On my way, I bumped into a man who was asking me where I was heading.

“I’m looking for Deadvlei.” I told him.

“Me too.” He smiled before getting out his phone and loading google maps. “I think it’s over these but I don’t know.” He was pointing in the complete opposite direction. He explained his reasoning for this before disappearing into his car and driving off to find Deadvlei. Now I was even more confused!

I decided to stick at the original route but after 15 minutes of walking on my own through sand, I became tired and started to feel a bit overwhelmed. The 2 rises had turned into 5 and each one was very difficult to conquer. Walking through sand is extremely tricky. If I’d thought I’d find Deadvlei in the next 10 minutes, I would have continued. However, I honestly had no idea if I was even heading in the right direction so it seemed stupid to continue walking deeper and deeper into the desert past even more sand dunes. I couldn’t even see the car park anymore! So, I gave up and returned to the car where my partner was. He didn’t take the walk with me as he wasn’t feeling too well. He’d objected to me wondering off on my own but I’m stubborn and don’t let anything stand in the way between what I want to do. To me it seemed crazy to be in Namibia and not even try to see Deadvlei. Who knew when I’d next be back and have the opportunity to see them again?

Sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
The vast desert. Would you wonder through here on your own not really sure where you’re going?
Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa

Despite getting hopelessly lost trying to find Deadvlei, I still had an incredible time. The dunes of Sossusvlei are breathtakingly beautiful, unlike anything I had ever seen before and just being in their presence made me feel humble and in awe. It’s hard to feel disappointed as you stand, your shoes thick with red sand, soaking up the vast expanse of golden dunes encasing the area. The perilous sun shines down, scorching everything it touches and the vast blue sky looks on in amazement. Sossuvlei definitely made an impression on me and I would definitely class it as one of the highlights of my 2-week road-trip around Namibia.

We drove through the dunes for a couple more hours, racing over rises and getting stuck at least once more. By the time we decided to leave, the sun was already starting to set. I was amazed that we’d spent over 4 hours here! It had gone past incredibly fast. But as we reached the tarred road out of Sossusvlei, life had another surprise in store – and not a good one!

Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Sand dunes in Sossusvlei, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa
Toyota Hilux self-drive 4x4 in Sossusvlei with sand dunes, Namib Desert in Namibia, Africa

I had to increase the pressure in the tyres as we returned to tarred road which wasn’t an issue, or so I thought. We were down on 1.6 psi but I had to increase it up to 2.2 psi. I started pumping air into the tyres when suddenly the tyre pressure machine cut-off. Uh, oh. I couldn’t for the life of me get it to work. Perhaps I’d blown a fuse in it? If only it was that simple. It turned out it wasn’t the device that was broken but the whole of our second battery. That meant that not only could we not inflate the tyres, our fridge had now stopped working and it was filled with food! Meat, milk, cheese – all these items were going to get way too hot without a fridge.

Fortunately, there was one thing which could help us get by and that was plugging the fridge into a plug when we reached our campsite. However, as luck would have it, our plug socket at the Sesriem campsite was bust! The campsite called out a mechanic who was able to fit a new socket to the tree very quickly. Our food would survive another day! I just hoped our tyres would do the same. Fortunately, I hadn’t deflated them down to 1.2 psi as they just wouldn’t be able to cope with tarred or gravel roads. 1.6 psi may just have a chance of getting us back to the tarred roads safely (this part of Namibia mainly has gravel roads bar the one taking us to Sossusvlei, so we were okay for now). Our plan was to stop at a gas station as we reached the tarred roads where someone could help us inflate our tyres. But let’s see if we make it that far!

Ella McKendrick on Black Rock Viewpoint, Kenmore Scotland

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20 thoughts on “Off-Roading Through the Dunes of Sossusvlei: A Namibia Highlight”

  1. While I was reading your post, I couldn’t help but cross my fingers, hoping for you to find Deadvlei. Looks like a great trip to make regardless though. There’s something about the desert that’s oddly calming.

    1. Thanks for hoping for me! One day I will find it. In a way, it’s almost good that I didn’t as it gives me a good reason to go back AND I had tonnes of fun doing my own thing anyway.

      The desert was so calming! It was just so quiet and peaceful. There was nothing but us and the rolling dunes.

  2. Oh wauw, these pictures are absolutely stunning! I’ve been to Namibia once, many years ago – maybe I should go back.. Great post, thank you for the inspiration!

    1. Thank you! I try my best with my photos ☺️ Namibia is an awesome place, full of many surprises. I doubt you can visit it too many times as there’s always more to see.

  3. what a crazy story, Im not sure I could handle being a bit lost in the vast desert. Why do you have to deflate the tires? Im so interested in this part of the story! And how do you re-flate them??? This does look so amazing though! I’d probably go with a guide!

    1. You have to deflate the tyres as it helps the car drive through the sand with ease. Full tyres sink into the sand and you get stuck. I’m not 100% of the exact science but that’s the general rule. You do need to re-inflate the tyres when back on regular roads – it’s just a shame I blew up the machine that did that ????

      Yep, a guide would have prevented me getting lost but I guess I like a bit of mishap every now and then as it always makes a good story ????

  4. You do an amazing job of storytelling. Sounds like a proper adventure. There is nothing like getting lost in a diiferent country and feeling like you’re just in the wrong direction. Glad everything worked out in the end. Great website!

    1. Thanks so much! Yep, getting lost isn’t the funnest feeling in the world, especially when you have a finite amount of time in which to find what you’re looking for. I’m really glad you like my blog 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  5. This looks like a lot of fun! I got stressed on your behalf when the tyres wouldn’t re-inflate. I’m glad you took it in your stride, I might have had a sense of humour malfunction at that point.

    1. Haha, it was bad luck! I kept surprisingly calm considering we had to risk driving with low tyres on roads that could burst them. Not to mention, the fridge was now broken too ????

  6. Ive never been in Africa but I would love to go! Namib desert seems like a perfect place for my husband, he would love to drive that car there! It looks so beautiful, love those colours! It seems like you had such a great time there!

    1. Africa is definitely a continent to add to your bucket-list. If your husband loves driving then Namibia is so perfect for him as it’s the perfect road-trip destination 🙂 The colours in the desert were magical! I love how my photos came out – they have a bit of a magical feel, I think.

  7. Awesome adventure! Even the game of lost and found. 🙂 This place looks amazing on the photos, I can only try to imagine how it looks for real!

    1. Photos never really do a place justice so you’d have to visit to get the true sense of how amazing it was ????

  8. Wow what an amazing adventure! I lived in Botswana for a few years and really regret not visiting Namibia- it will definitely be on my itinerary next time. Beautiful photographs

    1. Oh Botswana looks amazing! It’s the next African country on my list. I bet you had some great adventures there. It’s never too late to visit Namibia ????

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